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Graffiti in Tahrir Square Documents Iraqis’ Anger, Sadness and Hopes

Graffiti in Tahrir Square Documents Iraqis’ Anger, Sadness and Hopes

Thursday, 5 December, 2019 - 11:45
Protesters pose for a picture by graffiti murals during an anti-government demonstration in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square on November 23, 2019. (AFP)

The Iraqi protesters, also known as the October Revolution Youth, did not stop at protesting and chanting. They utilized several other methods to deliver their thoughts and demands to those who wanted and did not want to hear them.

In addition to singing exhilarating songs, always running plays and movie screenings in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, all of which meant to encourage protesters and help them persist, their graffiti-covered buildings popped up around the Square and the tunnel that passes underneath it, as well as other squares in different cities, which they see as vital to documenting the protests.

Since in the early stages of the protests, a substantial number of artists of different ages have taken part in the initiative to decorate Tahrir Square with paintings that address the themes of the protests, document their events and pay tribute to those who had sacrificed for the revolution and worked to ensure that it succeeds.

From Tahrir Square, the wave of graffiti moved to the protest square in the southern city of Basra. A group of young people that call themselves “Shansheel” painted over cement walls that surround the square. Artists and activists also decorated the tunnels and streets close to the municipal building in downtown Karbala.

Graffiti, which first emerged in the 20th century and is closely associated with American hip-hop culture, is associated with very complicated and dangerous circumstances in Iraq. The same goes for several other Arab countries that witnessed waves of protests in 2011. Both address similar issues. A substantial number of graffiti works in Tahrir Square tunnel focused on the violence against the protesters, while others depict the initials of the victims and their heroic acts.

Works that deal with and criticize the political situation and poor living conditions also featured prominently. However, Iraq’s extremely dire circumstances did not hinder artists from creating pieces full of hope. In any case, these works have transformed what used to be neglected spaces into what resembles public art exhibitions.

Hadi Khattat, an artist who took part in the graffiti work and in creating banners in Tahrir Square and Mataam al-Turki (a building overlooking the square), says: “The October Revolution youth moved many artists and inspired them to be creative.”

Khattat told Asharq Al-Awsat that the message that these artworks and graffiti were trying to deliver was “clear and unambiguous, expressing the most important Iraqi moment since 2003. The most important aspect of it is that it provoked the political Islam groups that hate art in all its forms, from painting, music, singing, to poetry.”

Besides the calligraphy and graffiti in Tahrir tunnel, Khattat says that “alongside a group of artists, we created artworks and paintings that were related to the protests and what it entailed and were exhibited in the Gulbenkian Art Gallery. The artwork that we created with our colleagues revolved around the idea that Iraq is not a homeland that we live in, but that it lives within us.”

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